How drivers can prevent dogs from becoming a distraction

Most drivers know how to eliminate distractions behind the wheel — but there may be one distraction some pet-loving drivers overlook.

About 50% of dog owners who drive with their animal believe their dog could be a distraction, according to Raychel Adiutori, an Erie Insurance spokeswoman.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. And there are ways drivers can reduce the number of distractions from their pooch.

The barking and jumping can distract drivers, causing unintended crashes. An unrestrained 60-pound dog can turn into a 2,700-pound projectile in a 35-mph car crash, according to Bark Buckle UP, a pet advocacy group that asks owners to harness dogs in moving vehicles.

One way to reduce the risks: take a walk before getting into the car. This works especially well with high-energy dogs, Adiutori said.

“If you have a particularly rambunctious dog, get some of that energy out before you take that trip,” she told WTOP. “I also suggest not feeding the dog a couple of hours before a car ride. Some dogs get car sick and that’s not fun to clean up.”

Owners should consider purchasing anti-anxiety compression shirts for dogs that are uncomfortable in vehicles. And invite an extra passenger for rides with Fido.

“Bring someone else with you,” Adiutori said. “That person can help sit with the dog to keep the dog calm and keep it from hopping onto [the driver’s] lap.”

Some drivers are comfortable with their pets riding along in the passenger seat. Some states are not.

Three states have passed laws mandating dog restraints in moving vehicles: Rhode Island, Hawaii and New Jersey.

“Introduce your dog to a harness or another type of restraint,” she said. “It is important to get them used to those. But that’s probably the safest thing to do to keep them in one spot in the car.”

If all fails, Adiutori said consider obedience school.

“You can always take them to be trained,” she said. “Look for reward-based professional trainers.”

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Gigi Barnett

Gigi Barnett is an anchor at WTOP. She has worked in the media for more than 20 years. Before joining WTOP, she was an anchor at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, and a staff reporter at The Miami Herald. She’s a Navy wife and mom of three.

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